Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Massaged Kale Salad: Food Alchemy

Preparing kale this way is true food alchemy – with no cooking involved. By simply “massaging” the little-bit-tough, little-bit-chewy, but oh-so-good-for-you kale, the greens morph into a sweet and tender salad.

Kale isn’t easy to warm up to. It just looks like it could scratch you. I have the same reaction to “Try it. You’ll like it” about kale that most people seem to have about anchovies. (Not me; I love the salty little devils!) But since I like to think I’ll at least try anything once, I decided to try this kale salad after watching an episode of “Aarti’s Party” on the Food Network. The idea that kale could be transformed by a massage was very intriguing. Then again, we all can find a massage soothing. And the kale indeed is soothed by simply getting in there with your bare – clean – hands and smooshing the chopped greens around for a couple minutes. A little TLC can help just about anything, or anybody.

I never had kale as a child. The only “greens” we ever had were the iceberg in our salads and frozen spinach. My mom usually just cooked the frozen block of spinach and then dressed it with cider vinegar and topped it with chopped hard-boiled egg. That’s still one of my favorite ways to have spinach (aside from creamed!) My greens arsenal is much bigger these days but kale is still only a once-in-a-while fling.

The Aarti episode was my initiation to the salad, but then I searched around the internet a bit and discovered it’s a lot more common that I thought! (Reminded me of the last time I explored a kale recipe: baked kale chips. And I had the same “I-can’t-believe-that-this-is-so-good-and-nothing-like-I-expected!” reaction to this salad as I did the chips, which I have made several times since I discovered them.) Some versions included different fruit and various different cheeses; some were dressed simply with balsamic vinegar.

The Aarti version called for mango, but would you believe the store didn’t have any the day I was shopping? So, I strained my brain and opted for nectarine, the closest fruit in taste and texture I could think of. And I also added toasted walnuts (because I had just a handful in the freezer left over) and I added feta cheese (because I wanted to!) I left the dressing alone; it was just the right mix of sweet and tang, a perfect foil for the relaxed kale.

Massaged Kale Salad with Nectarine
Adapted from Aarti Sequeria, Aarti’s Party

1 bunch kale
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
2 nectarines, peeled and diced small, about 1 cup
¼ cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Prepare the kale: Wash and pat dry. Remove the thick ribs by making V-cuts into the large leaves. Then roll the leaves as tightly as possible and cut into about ¼ inch slices, like ribbons.

Place the prepared kale into a large serving bowl and add half the lemon juice, a drizzle – no more than a tablespoon -- of oil, and just a bit of kosher salt. Get in there with your hands then and massage the kale for 2 minutes until the kale starts to soften and wilt.

Make the dressing:  In a small bowl whisk the remaining lemon juice with the honey and freshly ground black pepper. Stream in slowly ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil until it emulsifies and the dressing forms. Add more pepper if you want after tasting.

Pour the dressing over the kale and add the nectarines, walnuts and feta. Toss and serve. Makes about 4 servings. (Three for me, one for my husband.)


  1. I tend not to eat kale raw - but with all these ingredients, I must say I love the togetherness and the pairings! It's a full-bodied salad for the cool fall nights.

  2. Kale surprises me every time I try it. What's next? Rutabagas?


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